By: Tod Palmer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — An 84-year-old Clay County man, Andrew D. Lester, has been charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action for shooting a 16-year-old who mistakenly came to his house last week.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson announced the charges Monday at a press conference at the Clay County Courthouse in Liberty.
The case, which involves an elderly white man shooting an unarmed Black child, has drawn national attention and protests for a perceived slow response from police and prosecutors.
“We understand how frustrating this has been, but I can assure you the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work,” said Thompson, who met with the family Monday before receiving the case file and making the decision to file charges.
According to court documents, Lester shot Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old honors student at Staley High School, in the head and arm after the boy approached his house shortly before 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Street in the Northland.
The neighborhood is just south of Northeast Cookingham Drive and just east of US 169 in northern Kansas City, Missouri.
Yarl was meant to go to a residence with the same house number on Northeast 115th Terrace to pick up his younger siblings — twin 11-year-olds brothers, according to NBC.
Instead, after going to a house one block away, he encountered Lester, who shot him with a Smith and Weesson .32-caliber revolver. Police found the gun in Lester’s living room with two spent shell casings in the cylinder.
Lester told police he had just laid down when he heard the doorbell. He grabbed the gun before heading to the front door.
Upon opening the main door, which he said was locked along with the storm door, Lester saw Yarl and “believed someone was attempting to break into the house,” Lester told police.
Lester denied saying anything to Yarl before opening fire, telling investigators that he was “scared to death” and feared a confrontation.
“As the prosecutor of Clay County, I can tell you there was a racial component to this case,” Thompson said.
The first shot, which was fired through the glass storm door, struck Yarl in the head and he fell to the ground, according to the statement he provided to police.
While on the ground, Yarl said Lester shot him a second time in the arm.
Yarl also told police that Lester said, “Don’t come around here,” but it was unclear if that was allegedly before or after the shooting.
Yarl managed to flee and tried to get help from several neighbors before someone finally responded to his calls for help. He had been shot in the left forehead and right arm.
A witness who assisted Yarl and called police directed officers to the residence, where police encountered Lester standing inside his home behind a shattered glass storm door, according to a KCPD probable cause statement.
There was blood on the front porch.
There were no other witnesses to the shooting, but police did talk to a neighbor who heard the shots and another who helped Yarl.
Lester was arrested and transported to KCPD Headquarters downtown for a formal interview. He was subsequently booked at the KCPD East Patrol Division.
Police said he appeared “visibly upset and repeatedly expressed concern for the victim,” according to the KCPD probable cause statement.
Lester was released from custody after a couple hours, because it was determined more investigation would be needed beyond the maximum 24-hour investigative hold.
Missouri has some of the most relaxed self-defense laws in the country, but a person still must act “reasonably” to be shielded from prosecution.
“After a thorough review of the facts of the case, I believe that (a Class) A felony assault charges were appropriate and also armed criminal action,” Thompson said. “… We look forward to obtaining a just result.”
Lester faces 10 to 30 years in prison on the assault charge, which is a Class A felony, and three to 15 years in prison for the armed criminal action charge.
“Other charges may not carry that same level or range of punishment,” Thompson said when asked why Lester wasn’t charged with attempted murder.
Police conducted an “informal cursory interview” with Yarl last Friday while he remained hospitalized. Unable to set a time for a formal interview over the weekend or Monday, KCPD eventually forwarded the case without completing a formal interview.
But Thompson pushed back at the suggestion that justice had been delayed in the case.
“I think the Kansas City Police Department worked extremely hard,” Thompson said. “Lab results were obtained on an extremely short timeline. That’s not something you see every day.”
This story was originally published April 17, 2023 by KSHB in Kansas City, an E.W. Scripps Company.